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Towson Times: Latest Vision for Burke Avenue Tract Faces Review

January 06, 2010

Townhouses and assisted living facility are in the plan

A developer has a construction date in mind to transform a long-vacant tract in Towson Manor Village into a mix of townhouses and assisted-living units.

Work on the roughly 9 acres of overgrown grass on the north side of Burke Avenue may begin in the spring of 2011, according to representatives of the Greenbelt-based Bozzuto Group, which is developing the property.

Staff for the county is expected to introduce the project to the Planning Board during a Jan. 21 meeting. The meeting is scheduled for 4 p.m. in the Jefferson Building, 105 W. Chesapeake Ave., Towson, according to Lynn Lanham, division chief of development review.

The board is also tentatively scheduled to hold a public hearing at 5 p.m., Feb. 4, in the same location, during which Bozzuto will present the project for comment by community groups and individuals.

Lanham said the meeting dates are tentative at this time.

The County Council already gave its approval for a Planned Unit Development on the tract. The project, which Bozzuto dubbed Towson Manor, would include 118 townhouses and an assisted-living facility, run by the Baltimore-based Shelter Group, with 92 beds.

It would take about 12 to 18 months to build the assisted-living facility and three to four years for the townhouses, according to Clark Wagner, vice president of Bozzuto Homes.

The townhouses, set on 7.5 acres, would be priced in the mid-$300,000 to low-$400,000 range, with two or three bedrooms and rear garages.

The property, north of Burke Avenue and east of commercial buildings on York Road, may lie fallow now, but it has been active with controversy over the years. The tract has been the scene of three fires, the demolition of 29 houses and a short-lived dump.

It has taken nearly four years, two developers, two project names, reduced pricing, a pending change of ownership and at least four different plans to get to this point.

The largest proposal -- and somewhat scaled down variations of it -- was proffered by the Bob Ward Cos. in early 2006. It featured 350 dwelling units, including condos in four- to five-story buildings.

That vision drew such community opposition that Ward agreed to sell the property to Bozzuto later that year. Bozzuto technically won't close on the property until early 2011, Wagner said.

The company plans to sell 1.5 acres of the tract to the Shelter Group for the assisted-living facility. The assisted-living center will vary in height from two to four stories and feature architecture "designed to play off the houses in the Towson Manor Village community," Wagner said.

Architects for the project are the Virginia-based Lessard Group for the townhouses and Baltimore-based Hord Coplan & Macht for the Shelter facility.

Andrew Teeters, development director of the Shelter Group, said the assisted-living facility will accommodate "a pent-up demand in Towson."

His company has been looking for a site in Towson for more than three years, he said.

"We're very pleased with the support we have received from the county and the community," Wagner said.

"The market seems to be stabilizing. We think things will be better in 2011 when we open for sales."

Greater Towson Council of Community Associations president Ed Kilcullen, who lives in Towson Manor Village, initially expressed doubt about the mix of townhouses and assisted living because he feared that if the assisted units failed, they might end up as housing for Towson University students.

But he has come to like the idea, Kilcullen said, noting that it removes the threat of investors buying up whatever is there and renting to students.

"I think this is as good as we are going to get," he said.

Kilcullen also noted that Burke Avenue and York Road is a failing intersection. This facility may ameliorate some concerns about traffic, he said, as most of the assisted-living residents would not be driving.

Teeter said the same -- noting the new facility will have only 45 parking spaces, but is not expected to generate much traffic.

The association has given its blessing for the project, as have other community associations after working through issues with Bozzuto.

After the Jan. 21 review and subsequent public hearings, the Planning Board may approve the project, grant approval on conditions or turn it down, Lanham said.

If the board approves the plan, and once an administrative hearing officer determines the decision conforms to the law, the developer submits a plan for reviews by various agencies.